By Jaime Zahl
Approximately 80 parents, students and community members packed into the Springs School Commons Room on Monday night for the district’s first Board of Education meeting to formally offer Spanish translation.
During the meeting, two bilingual Springs teacher’s assistants, Lillian Flores and Ana Jacobs, sat in the back of the room translating for about 15 Latino parents who chose to speak. Following the third budget workshop presentation for the 2016-2017 school year and other agenda items, the board announced that they are now working with Hispanic advocacy group OLA of Eastern Long Island in hopes of creating better communication between the district and its Latino community, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the district’s population. “We had a meeting last week where we were talking with that community organization about how we can improve our communication also,” said board member Timothy Frazier. “I want you to know we are listening. We’re trying our best. We’re trying to put things into practice that we can given the limited resources that we do have,” he told the crowd.
OLA’s Executive Director Minerva Perez said the group reached out to the Springs School Board and Superintendent John “Jay” Finello after meeting with many Latino parents in the district who shared stories about trouble registering their children, a lack of translated materials and problems with the language barrier over a multi-year period. In one instance, Ms. Perez said that a parent said it took over a month to register their children at the district. “OLA is doing everything it can as a local, community-based organization, with all its members living on the East End, to make this a dialogue between a local community-based organization, Latino parents and the school board,” said Ms. Perez.
Two weeks ago OLA’s board of directors and six Springs Latino parents met with Mr. Finello, school board members Barbara Dayton and Timothy Frazier and Springs School Interim Business Administrator Carl Fraser to begin a dialogue about the gap between the district and the Latino community.
“It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting and overall everything that was being expressed by the superintendent and by the board were all the things that OLA and the Latino parents would want to hear,” said Ms. Perez. “The problem is that’s not what’s been happening. The only way to reconcile that is to say ‘put it in writing and let’s commit some action. Let’s commit to some agreements that are not only saying everything you just said, but creating some actions to go along with it.’
At that meeting, Ms. Perez presented the board and Mr. Finello with specific commitments suggested by OLA, one of which was a consolidated packet of all the district’s policies for new parents that could help them adhere to registration procedures. At the time of the meeting, Ms. Perez said she requested the board’s policy for registration, but was only given a generalized registration packet that provided little insight into policies.
“OLA would love to see those policies and protocols made transparent,” said Ms. Perez. “We want to get into the business of moving everything forward and integrating and incorporating these parents who want to be better involved in their child’s education, who want to be more supportive of the school.” The district lists 24 of its adopted policies on the district website. According to Springs School Board President Elizabeth Mendelman, the district has been in the process of updating its policies with its attorneys. Ms. Perez said OLA would also like to see the addition of a Latino parents advisory committee and other ways of getting them more involved in the district that would not require additional funding. “That’s what I saw when I met with these Latino families. They were talking about being more involved, about making sure their child gets a great education. That’s really what OLA is working to put together.”
Ms. Perez said the Spanish translation at the board meeting was a great first step. “Whether or not it was a little cumbersome, they really did seem to embrace it and I thought that was great,” she said. “Now all eyes are on the board, the superintendent, to look at this and to understand that this community of Springs wants to see the right thing happen.”